A Minivan or a Three-Row SUV? Which Vehicle Is Better for Your Family?

Not long ago, nobody would even ask this question as minivans reigned supreme in the family vehicle segment. Still, the evolution of SUVs has fundamentally changed that perception since they come in many shapes and sizes nowadays.
Chevy Tahoe/Chrysler Pacifica 38 photos
Photo: GM/Stellantis N.V.
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If your family is comprised of more than four members, buying a new vehicle with less than three rows of seats is off the table. That means your choices are narrowed down to a minivan or a three-row SUV.

Both types of vehicles have their advantages and disadvantages, so let’s look at the key factors you should consider before deciding which one to go for.

Model Variety

While a few decades ago virtually all major automakers marketed minivans, today there are only a few models worth considering. They include the Chrysler Pacifica and Voyager, Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, the outgoing Kia Sedona, or its successor, the Carnival.

On the other hand, SUVs have become the most popular vehicles out there, so naturally, there’s a wide range of available models, even if you’re looking for one with three rows of seats.

To understand just how popular they are and how wide-ranging this segment has become, let me remind you that the 710-hp Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat has three rows.

Passenger Space

Kia Carnival
Photo: Kia Corporation
If you have more than two kids, you’ll need ample interior room, which both a minivan and an SUV will deliver. However, the former undoubtedly has the edge. That is an important factor, especially if you want the kids to be as far away from the front seats as possible to maintain your focus and sanity.

Also, minivan interiors are more family-oriented, and they usually offer a larger number of practical features such as cup and bottle holders or USB ports.

As for seat configurations, they are quite similar on both minivans and SUVs. On higher-end trims, you can replace the conventional second-row bench seat with a pair of captain chairs which improve comfort but limit the potential cargo space since they can’t be folded.

The Chevy Tahoe and Suburban SUVs might have the upper hand if you frequently need to transport more than seven passengers, as they’re both available with an optional front bench seat.

Cargo Space

Chevrolet Suburban
Photo: Chevrolet
Mainly due to their low-floor construction, minivans have plenty of cargo space behind the third row, something that most SUVs cannot offer.

You’ll get around 20 to 25 cubic feet (566-708 liters) from the models with the best cargo capacities, while most minivans will offer well over 30 cubic feet (850 liters).

Sure, there are exceptions among larger variants like the aforementioned Suburban, which offers a humongous 41.5 cubic feet (1,175 liters). However, it comes with a heftier price tag and less-than-efficient fuel consumption.


Kia Telluride
Photo: Kia Corporation
Although some feature AWD and V6 engines that make decent power and enable them to tow up to around 3,500 pounds (1,588 kg), minivans aren’t the best vehicles for trips to remote locations accessible only by driving through rough terrain.

If you take frequent trips into the wild with your family and want to take your big camper trailer with you, then a three-row SUV is what you should be looking for.

Virtually all of them are available with bigger engines, AWD, increased ground clearance, or superior towing ratings, especially when properly equipped.

Fuel Consumption

Chrysler Pacifica
Photo: Stellantis N.V.
You can’t expect great gas mileage from a three-row vehicle, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider this factor. If it’s an important one, you should consider a hybrid, although that will drastically narrow down your options, especially if a minivan is more appealing to you.

Only the Toyota Sienna and Chrysler Pacifica are currently available with such powertrains; the other models are all powered by six-cylinder engines that don’t excel when it comes to fuel consumption, returning around 22 mpg (10.6 liters per 100 km) combined.

As you would expect, three-row SUV figures are worse, mainly because they tend to feature more powerful engines and are less aerodynamic. The most efficient models, such as the Hyundai Palisade or VW Atlas, have a combined EPA rating of 21 mpg (11.2 liters per km), while the huge Suburban returns 17 mpg (13.8 liters per km).

The Conclusion

Kia Carnival
Photo: Kia Corporation
A minivan seems to be the go-to vehicle for large families, especially if they’re driven through urban environments most of the time, and the need for ample cargo room is a priority.

If the soccer practice stigma puts you off, take a closer look at the Chrysler Pacifica and Kia Carnival. They are absolutely gorgeous (for a minivan, at least), and the latter does a good job at closely resembling an SUV.

Also, for about $40,000, you get a practical, spacious, and well-equipped vehicle with loads of cargo room, whereas an SUV that ticks all those boxes is sensibly more expensive.

Then again, if cargo space or fuel efficiency isn’t on top of your priority list and you want a vehicle with more power and capabilities, you should definitely go for an SUV.
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About the author: Vlad Radu
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Vlad's first car was custom coach built: an exotic he made out of wood, cardboard and a borrowed steering wheel at the age of five. Combining his previous experience in writing and car dealership years, his articles focus in depth on special cars of past and present times.
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